Author tells teachers about Jewish children's diaries during Holocaust

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by By LORI STAHL / The Dallas Morning News lstahl@dallasnews.com

wfaa.com

Posted on November 8, 2009 at 1:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 12:09 PM

Abraham Zapruder used to be a household name. The Dallas dressmaker's home-movie camera produced the iconic film of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

OSCAR DURAND/DMN
Alexandra Zapruder told a Holocaust forum in Richardson on Saturday that Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust is a reaction to hope, 'one of the most distorted themes of the Holocaust.'

On Saturday, his granddaughter Alexandra Zapruder discussed her own historical artifact: a collection of diaries written by Jewish teenagers in Europe during World War II.

About 100 North Texas teachers attended a Holocaust education forum in Richardson this weekend where Zapruder read from her book, Salvaged Pages.

Like her grandfather's film, her work deepens the collective understanding of how things unfolded at a specific point in history. The book, published in 2001, has developed a following in some education circles as a welcome supplement to high school history texts.

While Anne Frank's diary has long defined the genre, Zapruder said she realized that many other diaries could provide a broader portrait of the classic adolescent struggle as it unfolded during the war.

Sometimes, she said, students are improperly led to believe that reading Anne Frank's diary has some redemptive value for humanity.

"That's the idea I most want to challenge in this book," said Zapruder. "You cannot reclaim that life."

Anne Frank perished after her family's hiding place in Amsterdam was discovered in 1944.

Some of the diarists Zapruder discovered were on the run, searching for family members or crammed into fetid ghettos. Together, their varied stories provide a glimpse of the countless ways families suffered.

On one level, the diaries contain bits of anger, rivalry and self-absorption common to adolescents in any era.

But they also are overlaid with guilt, fear and shame as the struggle for survival escalated. One girl wrote in anguish after her family discovered that she took an extra teaspoon of noodles from their tiny food ration. Her once-proud father cried in shame and frustration that her small, selfish act had such dire ramifications.

In another passage, a boy whose parents were whisked away while he was at summer camp writes about his exhaustive search for a way to emigrate.

A teacher in the audience said his students should be able to relate: "In this part of the country, not having the right papers is not an unknown issue."

Zapruder, a freelance writer in Washington, D.C., identified three categories of diarists: those who were in transit as refugees, those who were in hiding, and those who were posing as non-Jews. Their view of the world was often dictated by their experiences.

"What this material does is it takes the question of hope out of the abstract," Zapruder said. "Hope is not a moral imperative. It's dependent on circumstances."

Zapruder spoke at a three-day conference hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Region 10 Education Service Center in Richardson. It was the Fifth Annual Metroplex Teacher Forum on Holocaust Education.

Her presentation was well-received.

"I'd read the whole book; now I'm going to go back and reread it," said Paula Ballew, a history teacher from Greenville who said her students get a lot out of the Holocaust studies. "It's absolutely their favorite unit of study. They recognize the significance."

Zapruder spent 10 years amassing the book and wants it to reframe the way Anne Frank's diary is sometimes portrayed as a triumph of the human spirit.

"That's what we as a post-Holocaust world want to believe, but the facts don't bear this out," she said. "One of the most distorted themes of the Holocaust is hope.

"This book is a reaction to that."

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